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FITNESS MYTHS: Half Truths & Sacred Cows
 
One of the biggest obstacles to successful physical fitness is adhering to popular truisms about the body; that are simply not true. Not true meaning they don’t work, they don’t produce safe successful results. Just because everybody repeats them doesn’t make them true, especially experts repeating them doesn’t make them true. Experts once said the earth was flat and if you sailed too far you’d fall off.

Opinions based on listening to other opinions are worthless. Finding truth through our own experience gives us something better than opinions. We get conviction, confidence and understanding, extending fitness to include our thinking and feeling. If we are misled as to how our muscles and bones really work; how can we discover what is really true, versus what we were told is true? Changing our minds often proves more shocking than changing muscle condition.

Looking around the gym the most frequent misconceptions seem to be: 
            Full Range of Motion; Momentum; Intensity; 
              Stretching, Abdominal Breathing, Walking-(Cardio).
Let’s briefly see what misconceptions these ideas inflict on the unwary.

Full Range of Motion: Is not natural! We don’t move in full range of motion in daily life we move in small ranges of motion. Moving a muscle through range of motion is wildly different than moving a limb through full range of motion. Muscles have relatively Small ranges of motion. Limbs have large range of motion. Range of motion by itself is not such a good thing unless it provides an advantage in resisting gravity. Number one exercise diagnosis question: 
         Does the exercise create an advantage in resisting gravity?

If the answer is yes, your muscle memory should demonstrate an automatic upsurge of vertical strength, i.e., spring. If the answer is no; delete the exercise, or reconfigure your position until the exercise does produce automatic spring.

The length and duration of full range of motion invites the next fitness malefactor: Momentum. Momentum based motion limits muscle involvement to the starting and stopping muscles. Everything in between is skipped over, causing the mid-range muscles to coast. A muscle that coasts is not only not doesn’t get stronger, its necessary nerve signal becomes garbled by the velocity of the motion. Muscles need time to function.

Muscles gain strength in response to time under tension. Momentum denies the mid-range muscles opportunity to engage. 
      Momentum means letting physics do your work for you.

Which sounds good, but actually places weight-bearing load not on muscle, but on the joints and spine, really not a happy condition for the body! Momentum by its velocity, makes muscle precision impossible. In plain terms, momentum is the child of habit. Habit is the antithesis of change. Fitness training is a process of change.

Number two exercise diagnosis question: Does the exercise speed give you time to notice your body’s action: shape, position and spring? 
      You can only change what you notice.

In terms of muscle building – joint stabilizing – spine supporting goals: 
      Momentum is not your friend. 

      Precision guides beneficial change – strength and fitness.

Precision requires enough time to notice and a slow enough velocity to adjust and correct. Smaller slower motion gives muscles, nerves, and proprioception (sense of body position) all the tools necessary to overcome unfortunate habits and enjoy greater strength and fitness.

Intensity, the degree of exertion applied is a necessity for strength and muscle gain. The degree of intensity makes all the difference. The degree of exertion has to be enough to make the muscle engage ferociously; but not so great an exertion that causes the body shape to degrade (lose its gravity resisting mechanical advantage).

Degrading the body shape by too much intensity illustrates the negative aspects of habitual tensions or Effort Gesture. Effort Gesture inflicts repetitive shapes and positions on the muscles that may be entirely inappropriate for the given task at hand, e.g. holding the breath, hunching the shoulders, clenching the jaw. 

      Intensity has to follow the Goldilocks Rule: 
       Not too much, not too little; but just right! 
            Only just right works.

Defining just right is easy, no momentum on seated exercises, no limbo on standing exercises, no grunting like a woman in labor. No unthinking compression of the neck, jaw, shoulders, or spine, no locking the knees or swaying the hips, no sudden stops and starts, and no holding the breath. In other words: 
     Only just right = controlled balanced exertion 
      with maximum spring-gravity resisting body shape.

Stretching is probably the most misunderstood facet of strength. Stretching is not a warm-up! 
      Stretching cold muscles invites more injuries than it prevents.

Stretching sore muscles may feel good but it does little to change the behavior that causes soreness or stiffness, particularly in the case of so called tight hamstrings. The feeling of tightness in the hamstrings most often signals nerve compression of the lumbar spine caused by the quads being too tight! Unless following overuse, specific muscle soreness is generally more an indicator of spinal compression than local inflammation. 
      Stretching a muscle does not strengthen it.

Stretching a muscle to full extension puts the muscle in a position where it cannot contract, cannot produce strength. Stretches such as toe touches and hurdle type stretches place the lumbar spine in an extremely compressed position, exacerbating the symptoms of hamstring tension. The most beneficial way to stretch a muscle is the position of eccentric contraction, when the muscle is in an elongated position. Eccentric contraction produces a longer more supple muscle with improved qualities of endurance.

Abdominal breathing is the worst idea to hit the human body. Even a cursory look at the ribs, lungs and diaphragm reveal an incontrovertible fact: The lungs reside entirely inside the upper and middle ribcage and the diaphragm resides in the lower portions. The lungs have no relation to the abdominal cavity. 
      Forcing the belly to distend on inhale weakens the abdominal wall, 
      compresses the intestinal tract, and impinges the lumbar spine.

Forcing the breath downward compresses the upper ribs and rounds the shoulders, compromising the volume of the upper lobe of the lung. These upper lobes actually extend up beyond the topmost ribs into the base of the throat cavity. Remember as a kid when you ran and got out of breath you breathed up high in your chest, and only stopped chest breathing when so called experts declared belly breathing the be all and end all of lung capacity. Forget the experts. 
      Trust your instinct and breath high. 
      Chest breathing opens the lungs and protects the spine!

Walking is great for heart and lungs, about that there can be no question; but we need to bear in mind: walking involves repetitive impact. 
      Every step involves impact.

Impact affects the feet, ankles, knees, hips, spine, neck, ribs, and jaw. Impact is a result of gravity. Impact can’t be avoided, it must be skillfully responded to with upward strength and spring shape from sole of the foot to the top of the head. Examining the mechanics of stepping pays great strength dividends when you bear in mind the thousands of steps we take day in and day out.

Not being aware of impact doesn’t mean you are not affected by it. Overcoming a lifetime habits of unconscious stepping requires great determination and skillful training. 
      Most of us learn to walk by lifting our feet.

Unfortunately that is the worst way to use the feet, causing the 26 bones, 31 joints, and 3 arches of the foot to be mere passive platforms lifted and dropped, forced to absorb impact thousands of times a day in a poor position with no assistance from the greater muscle mass of the calves, hamstrings, glutes and inner thighs. Triggering those muscle groups requires action from the foot, driving, springing, gravity-resisting action. 
      Our feet are designed as springs.

The back foot acts as a lever spring impelling the body forward. The front foot rolls through a weightless heel strike and receives the weight on the inner face of the ball of the foot with the arches engaged in a vigorous upward flex recruiting not just the lower body but driving the ribcage upward as well.

Looking around the gym, it is rare to see anyone on a treadmill, stair climber or elliptical with any significant glute response to step impact. In other words they repetitively lift their feet rather than drive through the feet, resulting in round shoulders, swaying hips, compressed abs and sagging rears.

Seeking cardio fitness without addressing the mechanics of successful foot strength is a recipe for frustration and injury. 

     Walking is only as beneficial as the precision of your feet make it! 
      Foot strength triggers strength through the entire body. 
      Foot weakness impels collapse through the entire body.

Revive-a-Back Gym Notes and Foundation Articles provide further explanations. These ideas are not mine but are yours and mine, springing from the design of our muscles and bones. Hopefully these remarks will be an encouragement to discover the living truth of our wonderfully made human frame. Have a great workout. See you at the gym.

                                                                             
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FITNESS MYTHS II: Tight Hamstrings - Feeling vs. Truth

Often in the gym people will complain their hamstrings are “tight” and ask for some kind of stretch to relieve the tight feeling. I never recommend stretching tight hamstrings because; 
      A hamstring that feels tight is rarely actually tight.

Most often the “tight” feeling in the hamstring indicates the nerve root for the hamstring – where the nerve emerges from the spine – is irritated. Compression in the low back irritates the nerves that trigger action in the hamstring muscles. 
      Irritated nerves cause feelings of tightness.

Hamstrings suffer irritation from under-use. Hamstrings (back of the thighs) suffer tension caused by under-use; because the quadriceps (front of the thighs), are stiff from chronic overuse from prolonged sitting or standing with knees locked. Tight quadriceps tip the hips forward, and compress the low back, irritating nerves that cause feelings of hamstring tightness. 
      Stable level hips relieve hamstring tightness.

Quadriceps and hamstrings are muscle partners. Quadricep – hamstring muscle balance provides stability for the hips, legs and feet. Hip stability maintains the pelvis in a level and centered position for standing walking, and sitting. 
      Stable hips prevent low back compression. 
       Stability requires power. 
       Power means strength. 
       Muscle balance means balance of power.

For quadricep- hamstring balance, the body must be placed in a position where the hamstrings can be triggered as prime power source. For the quadriceps to release, they must be flexed eccentrically, that is a long flex position, e.g. a long shallow lunge position with the rear heel floating, hips level and tailbone tucked. Step Lunge and Bench Lunge allow the quads to play a supporting role to the hamstrings awakening aggressive action. Active hamstrings wake up the feet! 
      Alert feet recruit strength from calf, hamstring, quads, and glutes.

Alert feet trigger spring from the Achilles Tendon and Ilial-Tibial Band. Achilles Spring Flex, Donkey Calf, & Toe-In Door Arch Squat along with Step Lunges, Bench Lunges, Reverse Lunge or Wide Hinge condition hamstrings and quadriceps to create abundant spring; so the body feels light, strong, and supple. 

      Have a great workout enjoying your hamstrings. See you at the gym! 

                                                      
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